Buy a Used DSLR Camera

Compare DSLR cameras.
Compare DSLR cameras.

Before you buy a used DSLR camera, there are a number of factors you should consider.

Should I Buy a Used Camera?

Digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras are not cheap. Professional grade digital cameras like those manufactured by Nikon, Canon and Kodak sell for hundreds of dollars. In addition, with technology changing by the minute, today's new digital camera is often tomorrow's cast off. For these reasons, many photographers purchase used DSLR cameras.

Before you decide to buy a used DSLR camera, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you familiar with the basic features of a DSLR camera?
  • Do you plan to purchase the camera from an online retailer?
  • Do you have an existing DSLR camera?
  • Have you bought used photo equipment in the past?

The answers to the aforementioned questions may help you in your decision-making process. In addition, the following tips can also come in handy as you venture into the used camera market.

Factors to Consider When Shopping for a Used DSLR Camera

Keep these points in mind while you examine your used camera selections:


First and foremost, you want to make sure that the camera is in decent shape. Inspect the entire body of the camera for any traces of abuse or damage. Minor scratches and scuffmarks are normal, but pronounced divots and dents are not. It's easy to tell if a camera has been well maintained. It should be intact and dent-free. Pro-level DSLRs are built to withstand environmental factors and the rigors of frequent use, so you should be able to find a camera in good shape provided the previous owner didn't neglect it.

Sensor and Shutter Inspection

  • Sensor: You can test a DSLR's sensor by shooting an unfocused white wall at f/22 and downloading it to your computer. View the shot at 100 percent and look for sensor scratches. Dust spots are normal, but large marks are not.
  • Shutter: It's important to inspect the shutter curtain for excessive wear and damage before purchasing a used DSLR camera.

Picture Counter

DSLR cameras are designed to take between 100,000 and 250,000 images before the shutter may need to be replaced. In order to get the biggest bang for your buck, it's a good idea to find out how many photos have been snapped with the used camera you are interested in purchasing. The more life you have left on the original shutter, the better the buy. Many high-end DSLR cameras allow you to find out exactly how many pictures a camera has taken by using a counter feature, which can be downloaded for free from the camera manufacturer's website.

Auto Focus

No one wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a DSLR that has a compromised auto focus feature. To test for auto focus accuracy, use an existing lens that you know works well and attach it to the used camera. Then, set the lens to its widest aperture and start shooting. Next, download the photos to your computer and check for front/back focus.

Buttons, Flash and Connections

  • Buttons: Make sure all of the camera's buttons work well. They should not stick or take an inordinate amount of pressure to function.
  • Flash: Take test shots to ensure that the flash feature works.
  • Connections: Inspect all of the camera's terminals, sockets and connection points. Make sure you can connect the camera to a computer to download pictures and that the TV out connector is working.


Prior to purchasing a used DSLR camera, ask the seller whether there are any dead pixels. It's not uncommon for older DSLR models to have a few dead pixels. If it has more than 15 or 20, however, you might consider finding another camera.

Serial Number

It's not a good idea to purchase a used DSLR from someone who doesn't have the camera's original box, paperwork, and sales receipt. If you are not familiar with the seller, check the serial number on the camera and run it through a stolen photography equipment registry like

Where to Buy a Used DSLR Camera

Used DSLRs are sold at various camera stores as well as pawn shops and home and electronic retailers. However, the majority of used DSLR cameras are purchased via the Internet. Websites such as eBay and Craigslist feature dozens of used DSLR cameras. Unfortunately, the downside of doing business online is that you will not be able to test the equipment before shelling out your money. If you are thinking of buying a used camera from an Internet source, do some research first to make sure the seller is reputable.

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Buy a Used DSLR Camera